Dryland Salinity in Australia

Essay by StaceyQHigh School, 11th gradeA+, July 2009

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Dryland salinity is an environmental disaster that affects many millions of hectares of farmland in Australia alone. Caused by saline water underground rising and contaminating the soil, it has led to the destruction of many farmers and communities way of life. It is the result of salt building up on the surface and underlying soil, creating an environment unsuitable for plants.

Cities are not immune either; millions of dollars have been spent repairing infrastructure damaged by the saline water. At current, there is no quick fix in the foreseeable future and no way of knowing the extent of the damage to our land.

Before European settlers came to Australia, the land was covered in vast numbers of trees and native vegetation. Over the millions of years, the plant life has adapted to be salt-tolerant. The salt, which lay deep underground, arose from rock minerals as well as deposits carried from the sea via wind or rain and slowly building up over thousands of years.

Also beneath the soil is the water table, a layer of excess water kept at a fairly constant level as most of the rain water is used by plants before it is able to leach through the soil. Native plants also have long roots which can reach the water table. Over thousands of years, this balance has remained stable and the salt has stayed putOnce European settlers arrived, many millions of hectares of native bushland were cleared for farming. Once the native vegetation was cleared the land was used for grazing or crops were planted. These crops and pastoral lands, unused to Australian conditions, have shallow root systems and require less water. As a result, the water table in these areas began to rise as more and more water filled the soil. As it rose, the...